Best Places for Forest Bathing in Leeds

Author profile image of Ben Fraser
Author: Ben Fraser
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Gledhow Valley Woods bench at top of gill

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What is forest bathing? copy-link-to-section

History copy-link-to-section

The term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”).

Amidst the rapid urbanisation and technological advancements, Japan took a unique and forward-thinking step to prioritise the well-being of its citizens. They introduced and promoted the concept of forest bathing as a part of its national health programme.

The decision to advocate for forest bathing served a dual purpose. Firstly, it was seen as an effective eco-antidote to the increasing cases of tech-boom burnout. As the country surged ahead in the world of technology, the pace of life quickened, and the boundaries between work and relaxation blurred. This led to mounting stress and a detachment from nature among the residents. Introducing forest bathing was an attempt to alleviate these stresses by immersing individuals in a peaceful and natural environment.

Mindfulness copy-link-to-section

Forest bathing is essentially a process that urges individuals to take a moment, step back, and really soak in the surroundings of nature. Immersing oneself among trees, it’s a chance to take a deep breath, observe the natural world, and let go of day-to-day pressures. This simple act isn’t just for adults; children too can find a moment of peace and improved well-being through it.

The main intention  behind forest bathing is to slow the body and mind down. In an era where everything is  moving at breakneck speed, this practice provides a refreshing pause. It’s about tuning into the little details: like the rustling of leaves or the distant chirping of birds;  to temporarily block out the overwhelming stimulation around us . It’s a moment to connect deeply with nature and in the process with oneself.

Forest bathing is more than just embracing one of the senses . It’s about engaging all of them: touch, sound and sight! Feeling the cool texture of the bark of a tree, the gentle flow of water over one’s fingers, or  taking in the fresh scent that the forest air offers. Lying on the ground, there’s a unique connection one can feel with the environment. This connection brings about a sense of calm and contentment, reminding us of the uncomplicated pleasures life has to offer .

Adel Dam Nature Reserve  copy-link-to-section

Leeds houses the serene Adel Dam Nature Reserve, a 19-acre area rich with wetlands and woodlands that have evolved from a centuries-old working dam. This hidden gem, not as well-known as other nature spots in the city, stands as a quieter alternative to the popular Golden Acre Park.

Adel Nature Reserve raised path

Rich Historical Background copy-link-to-section

In the 1900s, Adel Dam became a focal point of a private Victorian garden, bringing together a rich collection of exotic and native plants, some of which continue to thrive today. These long standing trees add a special touch to the diverse flora present, adding depth to your forest bathing experience.

A Quieter Alternative copy-link-to-section

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle, Adel Dam Nature Reserve remains relatively less crowded, making it an ideal choice for a tranquil forest bathing session. Visitors consistently recommend the site for its quiet and peaceful atmosphere.

Nature Trails and Water Features copy-link-to-section

The nature reserve houses the beautiful Adel Beck, a part of the Meanwood Valley Trail, which also features a mini-crag waterfall. The flowing waters add a soothing background sound, enhancing your immersive experience in nature.

Preserving the Natural Habitat copy-link-to-section

To maintain the natural habitat and support the diverse wildlife, the reserve prohibits the entry of dogs and bikes. This rule ensures a disturbance-free visit, letting you enjoy a peaceful time amidst nature.

Natural and Unrefined Paths copy-link-to-section

While exploring, you’ll find that the paths within Adel Dam are quite natural and unrefined. It’s worth noting that they might not be the best fit for wheelchairs or pushchairs. However, for those able to navigate them, the paths offer a closer connection to the natural surroundings.

Noise Considerations copy-link-to-section

While the reserve offers a serene environment, it is situated about 400-meters from the noisy Otley Road (A660). Keeping this in mind will help you choose the best time for your visit to fully enjoy the peaceful ambiance the reserve offers.

Gledhow Valley Woods copy-link-to-section

Gledhow Valley Woods bench at top of gill

If you’re looking for a refreshing natural escape within Leeds, Gledhow Valley Woods stands as a notable option. The ancient woodland stretches over 57-acres, making it a relatively small yet significant conservation area; it’s also home to a rich variety of plant life and bird species.

The woods have earned a reputation as a “piece of tranquillity.” However, to truly enjoy a quiet forest bathing session, we recommend visiting early in the morning. The woods tend to get busy in the afternoons, which might lessen the tranquil experience you are looking for.

Seasonal Beauty copy-link-to-section

While the woods provide visual wonders all year round, there’s something truly special about an autumn visit. The season paints the woods in splendid colours, offering a visual treat for any forest bather. 

Explore Off the Beaten Path copy-link-to-section

Besides the main paths, the woods house several enclosed spaces off the well trodden trails, waiting to be explored. Here, you can find solitude and a deeper connection with nature. It’s a great way to merge into the woods to enjoy a quiet moment or two.

Fun on the Tree Swings copy-link-to-section

Gledhow Valley Woods contains lots of tree swings, adding a playful element to your visit. Whether you’re with kids or looking to relive some childhood joy yourself, the swings provide a fun diversion amidst your forest bathing session.

Pathways Through Time copy-link-to-section

Walking through the woods, you’ll notice the narrow paths flanked by ancient trees on either side of the glacial valley. Be prepared for paths that get quite narrow due to steep valley banking. It’s a small challenge that adds a sense of adventure to your walk.

Noise Levels Vary copy-link-to-section

It’s worth noting that the noise level can fluctuate depending on your location within the woods. The upper regions, located at the hill peaks, offer a quieter setting compared to areas near Gledhow Valley Road, especially around the lake region. Plan your route depending on your noise preference for a more enjoyable visit.

The Hollies  copy-link-to-section

The Hollies Leeds path through woods

The Hollies offers 30-acres of woodland and waterways, providing a quiet and refreshing escape for residents and visitors of Leeds. This woodland area is equipped with everything you need for a satisfying session of forest bathing.

Diverse Plant Life copy-link-to-section

The area is known for housing one of the best collections of rare plants in Leeds, giving you the opportunity to see and learn about different flora from various parts of the world. It’s a great spot for plant enthusiasts or anyone looking to expand their knowledge on the topic.

Secret Trails and Streams copy-link-to-section

For the explorers at heart, The Hollies offers various secret trails that allow you to have a personal and close encounter with nature. You’ll find mini-streams that branch off from Meanwood Beck, offering moments of tranquillity as you walk through.

A Quiet Refuge copy-link-to-section

Many walkers have reported that the area maintains a quiet atmosphere at different times of the day, making it a reliable spot for some solitude and relaxation. You can easily find a secluded place, where you can enjoy a quiet period during the day or evening.

Seasonal Beauty copy-link-to-section

Depending on the season of your visit, you might be greeted with a bloom of snowdrops, daffodils, or bluebells. These seasonal plants bring a refreshing touch to the woodland, offering a different slice of nature throughout the year.

Historical Connection copy-link-to-section

It’s said that famous author J.R.R. Tolkien found inspiration in these woods while creating his legendary world of hobbits and elves. While wandering through, one might feel a connection to the essence captured in his quote, “not all those who wander are lost.”

Hetchell Wood Nature Reserve  copy-link-to-section

Cliff at Hetchell Wood Leeds

Located near the quiet village of Bardsey, the Hetchell Wood Nature Reserve stands as a tranquil retreat in the metropolitan borough of Leeds. This little-known haven offers peaceful surroundings, characterised by ancient woodlands, meadows, and gritstone crags.

A Flora Enthusiast’s Paradise copy-link-to-section

The reserve is renowned for its vibrant displays of bluebells in the spring, giving the woodland floor a mesmerising blue carpet. Walking through the woods, visitors will find themselves navigating twisted tree roots and encountering the fresh scent of garlic, enhancing the overall sensory experience. The woods offer a continuous change in scenery and aromas as the seasons change, promising a unique visit each time.

Varying Terrains copy-link-to-section

While enjoying a walk here, you might notice a significant variation in the terrain underfoot, ranging from areas of thick mud and grassy trails to rocky crags. This changing terrain not only alters the sound and feel of your walk but also adds an adventurous touch to your forest bathing session.

Streamside Walks copy-link-to-section

The reserve contains streams that gracefully weave through the woods, offering you a chance to walk alongside and listen to the tranquil sounds of trickling water, a natural soundtrack that accompanies you as you explore the different parts of the wood.

Historical Impressions copy-link-to-section

As you reach the end of your walk through the woods, you encounter an unusual historic site: the Roman earthworks known as Pompacali. Here, you can see large mounds arranged in two substantial arcs, adding a touch of history and mystery to your visit as you contemplate what might have transpired in this place centuries ago.

Middleton Woods copy-link-to-section

Middleton Woods Forest Bathing

Middleton Woods holds the title of being one of the largest remaining ancient woodlands in West Yorkshire, boasting a history of continuous woodlands dating back to the 1600s. Despite being a substantial green space, it remains a lesser-known spot for many people living in the northern parts of Leeds.

A Quiet Retreat copy-link-to-section

The woods offer a peaceful environment, located away from main roads, thereby making it a quiet setting ideal for forest bathing. Although largely serene, visitors might occasionally hear sounds from the oldest working railway in the world, which is situated nearby, adding a historic undertone to your visit.

Spacious and Accessible copy-link-to-section

Covering an expansive area of over 200 acres, the forest presents ample space to wander and immerse yourself in forest bathing beneath a protective canopy of trees. The vicinity offers tarmacked paths around the visitor centre, park, and woodlands, making it accessible to wheelchair users and those with pushchairs. 

Biodiversity and Seasonal Changes copy-link-to-section

Visitors during the spring season are greeted with the spectacular sight of bluebell blooms, a period that many regard as absolutely fantastic. In addition, autumn brings with it a transformation of tree leaves, showcasing beautiful hues of red and yellow. Nature enthusiasts can also listen for woodpeckers busily pecking at tree barks, offering a natural melody as you walk through the woods.

Nah Whins Wood copy-link-to-section

Nan Whins Wood path

A short 15-minute drive from the centre of Leeds will bring you to Nah Whins Wood, a quiet and peaceful destination that promises a serene forest bathing experience on any day of the week.

Shady Woodlands and Pudsey Beck copy-link-to-section

One of the defining features of Nah Whins Wood is Pudsey Beck, a stream that accompanies you as you walk through the dense and shady woodland. The woods stretch from Tong Lane down to a bridle path, offering visitors a tranquil walk alongside the beck, surrounded by the calming sounds of bubbling water and a canopy of tall trees that allow you to momentarily forget the world outside.

Varied Terrain copy-link-to-section

Despite its relatively small size, Nah Whins Wood offers a rich variety of terrains for visitors to explore. From woodlands to fields and trails, you’ll find different settings to enjoy, whether you’re looking for a peaceful walk or a place to reflect and relax.

Engaging Natural Features copy-link-to-section

Within the woods, you’ll find small features that add to the beauty and tranquillity of the place. You can find spots to dip your toes into the cool waters of the beck, offering a refreshing pause during your walk. The area is also home to mini-waterfalls and noticeable layers of slate rock exhibiting hues of brown and red, bringing colour and texture to the woodland landscape.

Top Tips for Practicing Forest Bathing copy-link-to-section

Pick a Quieter Time of Day copy-link-to-section

To truly connect with nature, it’s advisable to choose a time when the world is a little quieter. Early mornings or late evening,  when the stillness of dawn or the soft glow of dusk enhances the serenity of the forest. Pick a time when the daily hustle is at a slower pace  , and you will get the most peaceful experience. 

Turn Off Electronic Devices copy-link-to-section

In our interconnected world, electronics are a constant source of distraction. To fully engage with the forest and its wonders,  turn off your devices. By disconnecting from the digital world, even if just momentarily, you’ll find a deeper connection to the world around you.

Take Your Time copy-link-to-section

Forest bathing is not a race. It’s not about how far you can walk or how much ground you can cover. Instead, it’s about truly experiencing each moment – walk slowly, pause often, and let nature dictate the pace.

Use All of Your Senses copy-link-to-section

While it might be tempting to focus solely on the visual elements during your forest bathing experience, utilizing all of your senses can provide a richer and deeper connection to the surroundings. It’s not just about seeing; it’s about hearing the sounds that nature offers, touching different textures you come across, and immersing yourself in the fresh, clean air that you can almost taste. Each of these sensory experiences contributes to a more fulfilling and harmonious connection with the environment.

However, for those who find it difficult to engage their senses fully, possibly due to anxiety or other concerns, introducing mindfulness activities such as meditation can be a beneficial starting point. Incorporating techniques like mindful breathing can enhance your awareness of your inner sensations, helping to balance your emotions and diminish stress. 

By focusing on each breath and understanding how it feels physically, you pave the way for a calm mind, better equipped to appreciate the myriad sensory experiences forest bathing has to offer. It’s a step towards not only understanding your environment better but also fostering a deeper connection with your own self in the process.

Pay Attention to Your Breathing copy-link-to-section

Breathing is a natural rhythm, yet so often overlooked. As you wander through the forest, focus on your breath. Take deep, deliberate breaths, inhaling the forest’s essence and exhaling any stress. This simple act can be grounding and rejuvenating.

Stay as Long as You Feel Comfortable copy-link-to-section

There’s no set time limit for forest bathing. Some might find solace in a short 20-minute wander, while others might want  hours of exploration. Listen to your body and your intuition, and stay for as long as feels right for you.

Consider Joining a Guided Session copy-link-to-section

For those new to the concept or seeking a deeper experience, consider joining a group led by trained guides. These ecotherapy excursions, often spanning two to three hours, provide a structured approach to forest bathing. Guided sessions can offer insights into the forest’s ecosystem, introduce meditative practices, and create a communal sense of connection to nature.

Science behind Forest Bathing copy-link-to-section

Over the last couple of decades scientific research has been gathered into the effects and impact of forest bathing on people. A variety of studies are showing forest bathing to have positive results on the body and mind. 

One study found that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest helped reduce blood pressure, hormone cortisol levels and aided the improvement in memory. More specifically it found that the trees released chemicals called phytoncides – an active antimicrobial property – which has been shown to boost the immune system.

Another study out in the United States in 2016 deduced that a forest bathing programme for 19 middle-aged men was positive. The results reported a reduction of resting pulse rate and increased the individuals overall vigour. This study also found the programme scored high on reducing confusion, anxiety and depression. 

While the concept might seem rooted in tradition and spirituality, there’s a strong scientific basis for the health benefits of forest bathing:

  • Reduced Stress Levels: The quiet and peacefulness of the forest can significantly lower cortisol levels.
  • Boosted Immune System: Trees release phytoncides, which have antimicrobial properties benefiting our health.
  • Mental Clarity: Being away from urban noises can improve concentration and memory.

Seasonal Forest Bathing in Leeds copy-link-to-section

Dagmar Wood in summer

Different seasons offer varied experiences in forest bathing. Each season brings its unique sensory delights, and it’s worth practising forest bathing year-round to fully embrace all that Leeds’ natural spaces have to offer.

Other Green Space Activities copy-link-to-section

Forests and green spaces are not only visually stunning but also versatile in hosting a range of activities that help individuals relax and connect deeply with nature. While forest bathing offers a unique experience, there are various other activities one can engage  in nature to achieve tranquillity and mindfulness.  Below are some great  options:

Yoga: Practising yoga amidst the trees, with the gentle rustling of leaves and birdsong as your backdrop, can elevate your session. The natural surroundings enhance the calming effects of each pose, creating harmony between body and nature.

Eating in the Forest: Pack a picnic and dine under the canopy. The simple pleasure of eating amidst nature, with fresh forest air and perhaps the soft chirping of birds, can be a delightful sensory experience.

T’ai Chi: This ancient martial art, known for its slow and graceful movements, finds a perfect setting in the forest. The calm and balance that T’ai Chi promotes is accentuated by the stillness of the green surroundings.

Meditation: The forest provides a natural sanctuary for meditation. Away from urban noise, it offers an environment where one can focus on their inner-self, attaining a state of deep relaxation.

Plant Observation: For those intrigued by botany, forests offer a plethora of plant species to observe and study. The diverse flora, with their intricate patterns and vibrant colours, can be a source of wonder and education.

Author profile image of Ben Fraser
Ben Fraser

Ben is a big fan of the outdoors, whether it’s running through Leeds’ many parks or exploring them with his son. Working as a Development Officer for children and young people, he’s all about encouraging more movement and better well-being. He’s keen on discovering how the city’s green spaces can promote more play and activity for everyone. And he’s always on the lookout for the next best place for food and drink in Leeds!


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